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Donald Clark

Other Iowa Cases
In August 2009, 41-year-old Donald Clark was arrested on charges of sexually molesting a fifth grade student five years earlier when Clark was a counselor at the Helen Lemme Elementary School in Iowa City, Iowa.

Clark was accused of two counts of second-degree sexual abuse for fondling the boy on two occasions—once in the fall 2003 semester and once in the spring 2004 semester—when the then-10-year-old was in Clark’s office.

Clark went to trial in Johnson County Circuit Court in February 2010. The boy, by then 16 years old and identified by his initials, C.B., testified that several years earlier he was diagnosed as having attention deficit disorder. In the fall of 2003, when he began having difficulty concentrating and his grades suffered, his parents met with school officials and it was decided that he would begin seeing Clark, the school’s guidance counselor, once or twice a week.

C.B. testified that he would go to Clark’s office and they would talk and played board games for 20 to 30 minutes, usually with both of them sitting on the floor. C.B. said that during the fall semester, Clark fondled his genitals through his pants. During the spring semester, C.B. said Clark held a stuffed animal over his mouth to keep him quiet and then put his hand inside C.B.’s pants and fondled his genitals. C.B. testified that Clark s fondled him on other occasions as well, but these two were “the only times I remember in vivid detail.”

C.B. did not accuse Clark until the summer of 2009 after his parents placed him in Midwest Academy, a highly structured residential program in Keokuk, Iowa, to help C.B. deal with problems that had spiraled out of control since the beginning in the seventh grade: depression, suicide attempts, anger and drug and alcohol abuse. C.B. wrote an email to his parents in which he mentioned the abuse and also said that he did not believe he needed to be at the Academy.

Clark's defense attorney cross-examined C.B. about his drug and alcohol use and C.B.’s admissions to having had hallucinations. C.B. admitted that he said he had heard people say things that they had not said. The defense attorney suggested that C.B. had concocted the accusations as a scheme to get out of the Academy. C.B. admitted that before making the accusations, C.B. had a lengthy discussion with his father—a Johnson County deputy sheriff—regarding inmates committing sexual acts at the Johnson County Jail. Clark’s defense attorney suggested that C.B. had used that discussion to form the basis of the accusations.

The boy's father testified that he had spent $75,000 to help C.B. and had exhausted his savings, sold the family home and used part of his retirement fund. He testified that after fifth grade, C.B. had violent outbursts at home, cut himself and attempted suicide.

When Clark's attorney, a state public defender named John Robertson, asked the father if he attributed all of his son's problems to Clark, he said, "Yes, I do."

Clark testified in his own defense and denied the allegations. He said he never touched C.B. improperly. Clark testified that he was gay and he believed students at the school knew this.

On February 10, 2010, the jury convicted Clark of two counts of second-degree sexual abuse. At an emotional sentencing hearing during which C.B.’s father called Clark a monster, Clark again said he was innocent.

Clark said he didn’t know why C.B. had accused him of such a “heinous” act that never took place. “One thing I know in this lifetime is that I’ve never hurt a child. You know, I know, and God knows, it was not me,” Clark said. “You can take my freedom, but you can’t take my heart and soul.”

The judge then sentenced Clark to 25 years in prison.

The Iowa Supreme Court upheld the conviction and sentence in June 2012.

In 2016, Clark filed a post-conviction motion seeking a new trial. The motion claimed that his trial defense lawyer had provided a constitutionally inadequate defense by failing to call character witnesses on Clark’s behalf and by failing to introduce photographs at the trial that would have shown that the window to Clark’s office would have allowed anyone who passed by to see inside—which made it unlikely he would have attempted to improperly touch C.B.

The motion also said that during a deposition taken as part of a civil lawsuit filed against the school district, C.B. had admitted that he lied at the trial.
The prosecution conceded, in response to the motion, that “it appears undisputed that the victim or complaining witness in this case failed to some extent to uphold his oath at trial. That is, the victim has admitted, also under oath, that he failed to tell the whole truth about the extent of (Clark’s) actions at trial and at the deposition he gave prior thereto. The State cannot and does not condone or down play this fact. While the victim was candid in admitting that he had intentionally failed to tell the entire truth due to embarrassment about the nature of the allegations, as opposed to him having blocked out the memories, he should have disclosed all of the details at the time of trial.”
In May 2016, the motion for a new trial was granted and Clark was released on bond.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Sean McPartland said in his ruling, “In the deposition given in the civil matter, (C.B.) testified that he lied under oath at the criminal trial; that he also had lied under oath in a prior deposition in the criminal proceedings; and that he knew he was lying under oath when he did so. (C.B.’s) lies were made about the very subject which was the basis for the charges—the nature and frequency of sexual contacts initiated by Mr. Clark.”

The judge noted that the case was primarily a “he said, he said” case, and “the jury’s credibility assessments made with regard to C.B.’s testimony were critical to the outcome of the case. Had this information been available to Mr. Clark at trial, the examination of C.B. potentially could have taken a different course, and the inconsistent testimony may have been utilized to discredit C.B.’s allegations against Mr. Clark. The discrepancies in C.B.’s testimony also call into question whether the timing and specific allegations of abuse could have taken place in Mr. Clark’s classroom. These are
material issues in the case that are not merely cumulative or impeaching.”

McPartland also found that Clark’s defense attorney at the trial had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to visit or take photographs of Clark’s office. The judge said the photographs would have allowed his defense to offer a different perspective to the jury, showing the busy hallway outside Clark’s office and how easy it would have been to see through the office window.

On July 7, 2016, the prosecution dismissed the case, saying that C.B. had declined to testify at a second trial.

Clark subsequently filed a malpractice lawsuit against Robertson, who died in 2013, and the state of Iowa. A jury awarded him $12 million in September 2022. The Iowa Supreme Court vacated the judgment in June 2024.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/31/2016
Last Updated: 6/14/2024
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Sentence:25 years
Age at the date of reported crime:35
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No